Suns extend qualifying offers to Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker to make them restricted free agents

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The Suns overachieved last season by almost any measurement possible, winning 48 games in the difficult Western Conference in a year many expected would play out much the way it did in Philadelphia with the admittedly rebuilding Sixers.

Jeff Hornacek got maximum effort out of his players in his first year as head coach, and along with Goran Dragic playing near an All-Star level, Eric Bledsoe did the same when healthy, while P.J. Tucker filled a nice role for the team on both ends of the floor.

Phoenix has roster decisions to make this summer regarding Bledsoe and Tucker, both of whom could have become unrestricted free agents. But as expected, the Suns extended the formal qualifying offer to each, giving the team the right to match any offer they may receive when free agency opens at 12:01 a.m. ET on July 1.

The Suns have said repeatedly that they intend to match any offer Bledsoe may receive in free agency, but that gets much trickier when the actual time comes, especially if someone brings a max offer to the table to force the team’s hand. Bledsoe is a dynamic and athletic guard whose potential has many around the league intrigued, and his averages of 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 32.9 minutes per contest in just his fourth NBA season only helped fuel that relative level of interest.

Durability is the only real concern with Bledsoe, who appeared in only 43 games for Phoenix last year after suffering a knee injury which required surgery. Two seasons before that while playing for the Clippers, Bledsoe only managed to play in 40 games due to another knee injury which similarly needed surgery to repair.

As for Tucker, he’s a physical defensive player that has developed an ability to knock down the corner three when left open, and his grit and determination on the floor is something that seems to spread to his teammates.

The Suns would like to keep both players if the price is right. They have cap space to overpay a little for each, but Bledsoe will likely be the priority there if another team comes with an above-market value for Tucker that Phoenix is unable to justify matching.

By extending qualifying offers to each player on Friday, however, the Suns ensured that they will be the ones making those decisions.

Joel Embiid frustrated, wants more post touches, to play back-to-backs

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Joel Embiid remains a frustrated man.

He wants to be unleashed on the NBA, and he feels he’s being held back.

Part of that is not playing in back-to-backs — Embiid started Friday night against Boston but will sit out by plan Saturday night against the Raptors in Toronto. Embiid knows the plan to help protect a body that has played only 31 games in three seasons before this one and was not cleared for most of training camp, but that doesn’t mean he likes it, as he told Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I just want to feel like an NBA player,” Embiid said.  “I feel like I’m not an NBA player because I can’t play back-to-back.”

I get his frustration, but can you blame the Sixers for treating the guy like he’s made of glass at this point? Hopefully, later in the season, he can be cleared to play on both ends.

His second frustration came from the loss to the Cavaliers on Friday — he wants more post touches. In the video above he is clear, “I didn’t get the ball enough in the post.”

He’s right here. Embiid had three post-ups all game, one in each of the game’s first three quarters (stat via Synergy Sports). Embiid is efficient in the post — he has shot 9-of-12 on those plays overall this season and the Sixers score 1.33 points per possession when he does. Especially against a team going small — the Cavaliers start Kevin Love at center — Embiid should be fed down low.

Instead, look at his shot chart from Friday night.

Part of this is on him with all the threes, but they have to utilize him better. It’s part of the Sixers growing pains that will come this season.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.